There are many misunderstanding about forgiveness. For instance, it’s not about overlooking the pain someone has caused you. It’s not about dismissing it or forgetting about it. It’s not about saying the words “I forgive you”. And it’s not about reconciliation as wonderful as that might be. Reconciliation is centered in behavior. Forgiveness is centered in the heart.
We have all been hurt by others and when this wound remains unhealed within your heart it festers and grows, often causing further suffering. It’s common in such situations to experience depression, anxiety and feelings of low self-esteem. So the wound has a way of multiplying. First it takes up residence in your heart as a bitter pill. Add to that your toxic self-judgements and you have a recipe for deeper suffering that can compromise both your physical and mental well-being.
Forgiveness is strong medicine. It’s the practice of extending mercy when mercy is not forthcoming to you. You offer mercy to one who does not deserve mercy. You forgive another when you overcome your own resentment toward the offender, not by denying your right to be angry, but instead by overcoming your own anger by offering the wrongdoer compassion, benevolence and love.
Forgiveness is a choice. And it’s quite possible you are not ready to make this choice to forgive, so see if you can simply consider the possibility of forgiving. Forgiveness is not about overlooking, dismissing or forgetting the injustice someone has done to you. It’s about acknowledging that injustice and the feelings of anger and rage you have that go with it. Someone treated you in a way you didn’t deserve, and your anger is fully justified.
So it’s important to own the anger but it’s also important to appreciate that if that anger takes up permanent residence in your heart it will cause much more suffering than you deserve. For the bitter heart grows cold and small, and is likely to compromise your health in the process. The wound in the heart has a way of multiplying. So this is why you might want to entertain the possibility of forgiving.
Once you are willing to entertain the possibility of forgiveness, then the process is one of bearing witness and staying with your painful feelings. It’s important to experience and own your emotions fully and properly. Next you begin to reframe how you see the perpetrator. You might begin to appreciate how this person too has been wounded by another as well.
So forgiveness is a process. It’s not a walk in the park. It’s a deep and sustained commitment to opening the heart and offering another mercy and compassion when they don’t deserve it. And if you continue you may come to the point where you are able to sincerely wish this person no harm. You may find that you are strong enough, you are large enough to extend your compassion to this person.
Those who have forgiven in this way report that they would never return to the prison of a resentful and bitter heart. They find new energy and purpose in their lives. And they may even learn a deeper spiritual truth about being with suffering, not as a victim but as a victor, an empowered person who has the capacity to love another even when the same love may not even be forthcoming from this other person.
I’ll be teaching a workshop, “The Power of Forgiveness” this weekend, on August 30 and 31, 2019, beginning Friday evening and going all day Saturday. If the anger is eating you up, please consider the possibility of forgiving that person who hurt you. I’ll show you a step by step process for going this.
@ 2019 Roshi Robert Althouse